• Ethan Barnes

Make Use Of The Arts!

Gun to my head, I couldn’t draw a person to save my life. Art does not come naturally to me by any means; I struggle to make even the most basic artistic design. That’s not to say I’m not creative - I believe I am - but I can’t seem to translate my creativity into the physical realm.

There was a TED Talk that was circulated a few years ago by Graham Shaw in which he was adamant that anybody could draw. I’ll admit, I tried to follow along. I did my best. I made the shapes he made, I drew the lines that he drew, I followed his instructions to a T.

Left: Graham Shaw’s drawing from his TED Talk;

Right: My attempt at following his instructions

As you can see, I’m obviously the better artist. No. Despite the appreciation of art being of a personal nature, it is quite clear that my drawing pales in comparison to Mr. Shaw’s. I mean, where on Earth did my lad’s neck go? Can that stick even hold his head upright? Poor fella.

However, while my artistic career is - literally - in the bin, I have had the opportunity to use art in various ways in the classroom in an attempt to energise my kids, prepare them for other subjects, and just maybe, impart a little wisdom in the realm of the arts.

Activity 1 - Choir Coordination

I absolutely love this little activity. I was first introduced to it in university, and I’ve used it consistently in the classroom to refocus my students and release the pressure valve a little. If this little diddle doesn’t get stuck in your head I don’t know what will!

[Barnes, E. Choir Coordination]

The intention of the experience is to immediately engage students in a fun activity that requires different mouth movements and incorporates a variety of actions to an otherwise easy tune. The video only shows an early part of the activity, but you can go around and ask students to develop their own rhythmic movements for each new round added. I love this as it gives them full rein to be as creative as they want while still developing their memory and coordination skills.

Art is all about making and responding. This activity is a perfect mix of both of these facets of art. In making this live music, we were able to actively listen and work collaboratively as a group, singing and creating music with our bodies. Furthermore, the live performance aspect allowed my students to learn skills such as thinking ahead of the lyrics, listening actively, remembering the tune, keeping in time with others, and incorporating actions and variations. These skills are all based on responding to each other as part of the performance. Dinham (2016) explained that responding to a live performance can be extremely beneficial as live performances have the capacity to engage the audience better, helping them experience the energy and connection felt by the performers.

It’s intriguing to think about but, truthfully, this simple multi-sensory activity provides a massive opportunity for students to learn how to actively respond to certain stimuli. More importantly, they are doing it without realising it. Because it’s fun!

Activity 2 - Curious Colours

This is another activity which I’ve used to interweave knowledge from a couple of subjects. Curious Colours is all about mixing primary colours to form different colours and shades in an attempt to influence the emotion elicited from and the meaning of particular works of art.

[Barnes, E. Curious Colours]

Confusing? Yes, a little. A little too artsy for your taste? Maybe. I must admit I was hesitant to try this at first as well but upon reflection, I shouldn’t have been.

The express purpose of this activity is to allow students to explore how colours are formed and to understand the importance of the colour in eliciting meaning. The great thing about this is that it can be adjusted for any grade level. You can integrate it with curriculum in Psychology, Business and Marketing, and English.

You can investigate colour psychology and think about how businesses brand themselves, either their logos or their advertisements. You can delve into how colour can be used in narratives to evoke certain emotions from an audience about a particular scene or character. You can even highlight how colour has been used in literary work to achieve a purpose as well.

With the huge variety of options available from such a simple task, it seems naive to discard our artistic talents and focus merely on the words. Is it not more effective to see how something can be developed rather than just be told? The response that you can evoke from students making this artwork will embed itself more permanently in their brains and allow them to recall a specific moment when they experienced how colour could be used for a particular purpose.

Activity 3 - Stop (Motion) Exclusion

The third and final activity I want to reflect on is a stop motion task. This media arts experience involved using different materials to create a scene in which a lesson about social relationships and inclusion or exclusion was communicated effectively.

[Barnes, E. Stop (Motion) Exclusion]

The video shows a stop motion animation that one group created regarding inclusion and exclusion. Using a variety of materials (E.g., string, clothes pegs, fluff, etc.), this group created five characters who participated in including a sixth character in their game of jump rope, even though they were all unique and dissimilar.

Pretty cheesy right? Well, it doesn't matter. Teaching can sometimes get cheesy. It can sometimes seem like teaching only focuses on the ideal version of what the world should look like, which is clearly far removed from the reality that we experience. But why shouldn’t we teach our students what a better world could look like? Why can’t we allow them to imagine a more inclusive world where ideas, thoughts, and innovation are shared freely?

That’s what this activity does. It opened up an avenue for my students to discuss how they would demonstrate a particular lesson and provided them with the creative freedom to develop anything they wanted within the confines of a stop motion animation.

I really saw my students thrive as they each decided which piece they would move during the picture taking process so that they could get through the work most efficiently. In fact, subtly, this group work also taught them the value of including each of their team members in the planning, making, and execution processes. Inception!

My Chosen Tool

See, I’m no artist. I can tell you that hand on heart, pinky promise, “cross my heart, hope to die” - whatever playground deal sealer you want to use - that I am not ever going to specifically teach art in my life. It would be wrong of me to do so. I’d be creating a whole new generation of inept artists. No. I won’t do it.

That being said, I one hundred percent believe that the arts can be used within my lessons to help teach my students about different things. Arts are the ultimate tool to have in your toolbox to combine cross-curricular topics. Their ability to engage students, promote collaboration and enhance creativity are unmatched.

I for one am not going to miss out on the opportunity to involve as many kids as I can in learning that is both practical and fun.

What about you?

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